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New wave of workers heads for Oz's shores

WORKING ABROAD

While two weeks in the sun may be enough for most, some decide to get away for good and emigrate.

Australia in particular has never lost its appeal for Poms and now a growing number of construction workers are discovering the Aussie experience. Emma Forrest reports

EMIGRATING to Australia has improved its image since Brits made the journey in chains. Many can remember the days when a tenner and a half-hour interview got you a ticket on a boat and a new life. These days things are made a little more difficult but the poor British climate and the rising cost of living mean emigration is fast becoming an attractive option for many.

'We have seen a marked surge in interest over the past six months and over 400 queries have come from construction workers, ' says Ian Johnson, of migration advisers Global Visas.

Suitability for emigration depends on a points system, which are allocated according to age, skills, language skills, whether you have any family in Australia and whether or not you have a job to go to. The minimum number of points to get in is 115 points; most construction trades get you 60 points to start off with, providing you can prove your skills level (see below).

'If we can get people over here, we can place them, ' says Daniel Griggs, director of recruitment consultants BBT, who have recently opened an office in Sydney.

Mr Griggs points to a large number of on-going heavy civils jobs and the number of young Australian engineers who choose to work abroad for a few years as key incentives for construction professionals to emigrate.

'Some people will always prefer to employ Australians but this is a multicultural place. The lifestyle is much more relaxed over here and people come over here for that. People still work hard but life is very different. I'm working in the centre of Melbourne at the moment and it's only 10 minutes from the beach, ' says Mr Griggs.

If your profession is included in the current Australian Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs' Migration Occupations in Demand List, which changes frequently according to the needs of the economy, it will gain you extra points. Being able to show you have a job offer in one of the sought-after jobs will get you more points still.

It also helps if your partner is in a sought-after profession.

Having a wife or husband who is a nurse, teacher or, curiously enough, a hairdresser, will help your cause, as all are in great demand.

Already home to sizeable populations of ex-pats, Queensland, Melbourne and Sydney are among the most popular locations for emigrants. While salaries are considerably lower than in the UK (see below) life in Australia is much cheaper than it is here.

Although house prices have risen steadily over the past few years, you will still get a lot more for your money. Three or fourbedroomed bungalows with gardens are the norm for family homes and can be bought in many suburbs for around the price of a two-bedroomed flat in east London.

Before you start packing, anyone applying has to be able to show a considerable amount of experience and professional qualifications and there is a heavy emphasis on references. If there are any brushes with the law lurking in your past, now is the time to own up. But do not wait until you are at the end of your career to consider the move.

'If you can get the maximum points for your age and skills then you can walk in, ' says Mr Johnson. 'But the worst thing is when people come to us in their late 30s or early 40s. The cutoff age is 45 and it's a long process. We often have to tell them that they won't get in. If they had done it 10 years ago, they would have got in. My advice is, if you are thinking about doing it, try it.'

Taking the plunge

Skills in demand

The following trades and professions will snare 60 points for an applicant.

Architect

Bricklayer

Carpenter

Electrician

Civil engineer

Roof slater and tiler

Supervisor, painters and decorators

Trades should make sure their skills levels and qualifications are recognised by trade body the Trades Recognition Association of Australia. Architects and engineers have equivalent bodies.

What kind of wages to expect down under

Wages across both trades and professions are considerably lower than their UK equivalents.

'I expect to be making about £250 a week (about AUS$690) in Australia at first. I can make that in two days here, ' says carpenter Louis Belte.

In the professions, Melbourne-based senior civil engineers are being offered the equivalent of £26,000 a year while project managers on the Western Sydney Orbital Road can expect £58,000.

But, because dollars stretch much further than the pound, such salaries can still support a comfortable lifestyle.

What are you worth?

The Bests:

'Later on in life my kids are going to benefit greatly from this move, ' says 33-yearold drainer Jason Best. Mr Best and his family made the decision to move to the Queensland coast last summer and have since sold their house in Sussex.

'My wife and I are both outdoor people and it offers a very outdoor lifestyle, whereas in the UK you are practically housebound for six months of the year, ' he says. 'I will be taking a huge wage drop - from around £30,000 now to the equivalent of £20,000 - but it's all relative.

'Work should not be a problem. It is a real struggle to get a nice house here but there, we can have lots of space.'

The Bests expect to have to wait for around another 6 months before hearing if their application has been successful.

The Burroughs:

'The way I look at it, life here can only get harder and harder, ' says 35-year-old plumber Warren Burrough, speaking to Construction News while sitting in a traffic jam on his way home to Enfield, North London. 'The costs of living here are too high; my kids won't be able to buy a house or anything. In Australia, the conditions and standards of life are so much better.'

The Burroughs intend to live in Brisbane and after applying 5 months ago think they probably have another 18 months to wait.

The Beltes:

'Our application began about 14 months ago and we were told the process would take 50-odd weeks in total. We hope to get over there sometime in 2003, ' says plumber Louis Belte, from Birmingham.

Mr Belte and family are hoping to move to Queensland, where he plans to buy a house for cash, despite anticipating a massive drop in wages from around £1,000 a week to £250 a week.